Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

The Dubai mother dedicated to helping children in the name of her son

Rana Atassi changed the name of her special-needs centre to Jad’s Inclusion after her boy's death

Rana Atassi is the founder of the Modern Alternative Education centre, which she renamed Jad’s Inclusion in tribute to her son, Jad, who died last August aged 11. Reem Mohammed / The National
Rana Atassi is the founder of the Modern Alternative Education centre, which she renamed Jad’s Inclusion in tribute to her son, Jad, who died last August aged 11. Reem Mohammed / The National

A dedicated Dubai mother whose "universe collapsed" after her son died in his sleep at the age of just 11 last summer is keeping his legacy alive through the special needs centre she founded in his honour.

Rana Atassi's son Jad inspired her to set up Modern Alternative Education, to help fill the gap between mainstream and special needs education, in October, 2016.

Jad was diagnosed with autism when he was two and was rejected by 22 schools in Dubai before eventually being accepted by a mainstream school.

Ms Atassi soon found that the school was not the right fit for him, and dedicated herself to learning all she could about special-needs education to find the right path for her son and many others like him.

After four years of extensive research and study, and time spent sourcing the right programmes and staff, her vision became a reality.

But tragedy struck last August.

Jad had fallen asleep in Ms Atassi’s bed next to her, but the next morning she could not wake him up.

He had unexpectedly passed away during the night, and his cause of death remains unknown.

“I completely broke for three days – like the collapse of the universe,” said Ms Atassi, who has two other sons, aged 5 and 13.

But she held herself together for the sake of her family and a few weeks later, she was back to work, more determined than ever to keep the centre going.

After the passing of her autistic son last summer, Rana Atassi decided to change the name of her special needs school from Modern Alternative Education to Jad's Inclusion. Chris Whiteoak / The National
After the passing of her autistic son last summer, Rana Atassi decided to change the name of her special needs school from Modern Alternative Education to Jad's Inclusion. Chris Whiteoak / The National

She says it was “heart breaking” that some parents wondered if she was going to shut the centre down after Jad passed away.

Ms Atassi was eager to continue doing good in the name of her son. She decided to not only keep running the centre, but to change its name to Jad’s Inclusion on January 31, which would have been her son’s 12th birthday.

On that day, she planted a tree in his honour in the school in a private ceremony.

Rana Atassi planted a tree at the centre in her son's honour on January 31 — what would have been his 12th birthday. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Rana Atassi planted a tree at the centre in her son's honour on January 31 — what would have been his 12th birthday. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Ms Atassi also released a video tribute to Jad on social media introducing “the new face of Mae”.

“I have had my son’s life taken away from me while being in my arms, for me to choose to give him eternal life by keeping his name and legacy alive,” she wrote.

Jad’s Inclusion, which is in a villa in Umm Suqeim, has 23 pupils. It offers full-day programmes, as well as half-day academic and vocational pupils for ages four to 18. Last year the centre had 30 youngsters, some of whom went on to mainstream schools.

Parents who enrolled their children at the centre say it appeals to them because it offers a balance between mainstream schools and traditional special-needs centres for those children who are high functioning.

Egyptian Soha Mito, 37, pulled out her 13-year-old daughter Laila, who has Down syndrome, from a mainstream school after grade five.

“She could have continued in school, but as she was getting older, the gap was getting bigger and bigger,” says Ms Mito, a nursery administrator.

"Jad’s Inclusion had a different vision in that it takes children not with severe special needs, but children struggling with inclusion.”

Students Tobi, 12; Bond, 14; and Sheikh, 15 in a classroom at Jad's Inclusion. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Students Tobi, 12; Bond, 14; and Sheikh, 15 in a classroom at Jad's Inclusion. Chris Whiteoak / The National

American Charity Adams, 43, had home schooled her 14-year-old son Bond for six years until deciding to enrol in the centre in September 2017. Bond has a rare condition called SSADH, a metabolic disorder that causes delayed development.

“I’m a very non-traditional parent when it comes to education. It has a lot more to do with social, emotional well-being and just feeling confident in themselves and Jad’s Inclusion provides that,” says Ms Adams, a yoga teacher. “That’s why we love it. He’s thriving not just academically, but emotionally and socially.”

As with most special needs centres, it comes at a high cost. Fees for the full-day programme can go up to Dh100,000, which includes therapy sessions and Applied Behavior Analysis. Ms Atassi explains that parents of special needs children pay higher costs in traditional schools as well, because they have to pay shadow teacher fees of around Dh60,000 per year in addition to school tuition and therapy fees.

Ms Atassi says her centre has given scholarships to two pupils and is hoping to reduce fees as the centre grows. “I know we’re still a bargain, but it still doesn’t feel right, because not everyone can afford Dh100,000.”

In addition, she has reduced the age of admission to 4 years old from 8, because she saw that parents were struggling to find appropriate schools for their children from an early age.

Although Ms Atassi is passionate about her mission, she says it is still emotional to go to work every day and walk into the classrooms.

“I did this for him. Everyone else is here except him.”

Updated: February 16, 2019 05:48 PM

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